Damnation by Definition
Robert Anton Wilson ever the arch-agnostic, was surprisingly consistent in his themes. Although he notes that parts of Authority and Submission, an unpublished work written in his early-mid thirties, would be incorporated in Prometheus Rising and Illuminatus! the themes he covers can be found in nearly every other essay in this collection and throughout his oeuvre. The particular term “The Damned Thing” is derived by an Ambrose Bierce short-story that itself seems to have been partially inspired by Guy de Maupassant’s 1880s story “The Horla.” Both stories were an influence on Lovecraft who borrowed an array of themes and terms from Bierce’s stories or from other writers, such as Robert Chambers, who borrowed those terms from Bierce in their turn. The possibly trans-dimensional locations “Carcosa” and “Hali” were both derived from Bierce’s work as well as the name “Hastur” who would be morphed from a gentle shepherd deity to one of the more fearsome of the Great Old Ones. Alan Moore’s recent masterwork of Lovecraftian fiction/scholarship Providence highlights the contributions Bierce made to Lovecraft's fevered universe. Bierce and Chambers are both mentioned in the rising action of The Eye in the Pyramid with the former’s disappearance and the latter’s move to trite romance novels being used as evidence of the Illuminati’s nefarious activities over the years.
But this is mostly a political/social essay concerning the interactions between two possible models: the authoritarian and libertarian. Benjamin Tucker, the nineteenth century American anarchist quoted in the essay as saying “[a]gression is simply another name for government,” is mentioned earlier in the same class of thinkers as Lysander Spooner. I think it is typical of RAW, who is a very American author, to draw his philosophical basis for individualism from American writers instead of the more fashionable, or at least better known, Russian anarchists of the age such as Kropotkin or Bakunin. Although he does mention Tolstoy quite often.
I think the paragraph on pg. 184 where the young Wilson waxes into the grandiose language of liberty is beautiful:
“To say that liberty exists is to say that classlessness exists, to say that brotherhood and equality exist. Authority, by dividing people into classes, creates dichotomy, disruption, hostility, fear, disunion. Liberty, by placing us all on an equal footing, creates association, amalgamation, union, security. When the relationships between people are based on liberty and non-aggression, they are drawn together. The facts are self-evident and axiomatic. If authoritarianism did not possess the in-built, preprogrammed double-blind structure of a Game Without End we would long ago have rejected it and embraced libertarianism.”
The following two paragraphs explain much of the political thinking in the nation today as well as they did when the piece was originally written. Perhaps the reasons RAW toyed with the same ideas so often is that it takes humanity as a whole, regardless of information doubling or technology, a long time to move on from certain paradigms. No matter how idiotic or suicidal those ideas may be.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the essay for me was RAW’s correct prediction about the fate of television censorship made in the last line of the essay: “When a more efficient medium [Internet?] arrives, the taboos on television will decrease.” Many critics agree we are living in a Golden Age of scripted television and I am tempted to agree. It seems by moving television primarily onto the Internet, and with all the noise it seems most efforts to censor the Interwebs seemed doomed to failure in the West, the ideas of propriety have been cast away and shows have been allowed to experiment more often. I’d honestly rather watch one of the new seasons of Veep or It’s Always Sunny for their cleverness and character development rather than whatever schlock war film by Eastwood or Gibson or whatever technicolor CGI seizure lowest common denominator trash that dominate the movie box office today. What a run on.
The short essays between “Views of Monterey Bay #18 and #19” are devoted to RAW’s delight in the emerging techno-culture and vitriol against the escalating drug wars of the nineties. Regrettably, RAW’s prediction that the acidheads would take over the business world seems to have been inaccurate.